Sexual Harassment Claims Dismissed; Geographical Requirements of NY State and City Human Rights Laws Not Satisfied

In Pakniat v Moor et al, No. 160019/2019, 2020 WL 2198218 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County May 04, 2020), a sexual harassment case, the court held that the plaintiff did not satisfy the geographical requirements of the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

The facts, briefly:

[P]laintiff lived and worked in Canada during her tenure with [defendant] Mageba [International, LLC]. Under the terms of this agreement, plaintiff was to report to the Mageba CEO, Gianni Moor, who was located in New York. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Victoria Moor, Gianni Moor’s wife, erroneously believed that plaintiff was having an affair with her husband. Plaintiff further asserts that Ms. Moor forced her husband to change the reporting structure so that Plaintiff no longer reported to Mr. Moor. Plaintiff alleges that the jealousy of Ms. Moor eventually caused her husband to terminate plaintiff’s employment. Plaintiff was terminated on October 23, 2018. Upon her termination, plaintiff was informed that she would receive her base rate of compensation and funds for her unused vacation time. [Citations omitted.]

Plaintiff sued, alleging, inter alia, sexual harassment and retaliatory discharge under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws. Defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to, inter alia, New York CPLR 3211(a)(1), (2), alleging that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the New York State and City Human Rights Law claims.

The court granted defendants’ motion, agreeing with them that the outcome was governed by the Court of Appeals’ decision in Hoffman v Parade Publs, 15 N.Y.3d 285 (2010).

The court summarized that case, and its application here, as follows:

In Hoffman, the plaintiff, a resident of Georgia, brought claims under bother NYCHRL and NYSHRL for age discrimination. Id. The plaintiff in that case argued that New York had jurisdiction because (i) the plaintiff attended quarterly meetings in New York City, (ii) that the parent company was managed from New York City, (iii) all corporate contracts were negotiated through the New York City office, and (iv) that defendants’ decision to terminate him was made and executed in New York City. Id. at 298. The Court of Appeals found that jurisdiction was improper over the plaintiff’s claims because the “impact” of the discrimination was not felt within the boundaries of New York. Application of the “impact” requirement to State and City Human Rights Law claims permits those who work in the state and City to invoke its protections. Id. at 291-92. The Hoffman Court explicitly stated that the statutory scheme did not extend to nonresidents who could not show that the alleged discrimination had an impact within the boundaries of New York. Id. As a result, the Court noted, the plaintiff’s contacts within the state of New York were merely tangential and did not have an impact inside the boundaries of the city or state of New York. Id. In assessing the “impact” requirement under Hoffman, New York Courts have stated that subject matter jurisdiction is determined primarily on the plaintiff’s physical location at the time of the alleged discriminatory acts. See, e.g., Benham v. eCommission Solutions, LLC, 118 A.D.3d 605, 606, 989 N.Y.S.2d 20 (1st Dep’t 2014) (“Whether New York courts have subject matter jurisdiction over a nonresident plaintiff’s claims under the HRLs turns primarily on her [or his] physical location at the time of the alleged discriminatory acts”).

The facts at bar are nearly identical to those in Hoffman. Here, plaintiff is non-resident of New York as she is a resident of resident of Montreal, Canada. She is alleging that her work with the New York Office demands jurisdiction over her claim. Finally, she is alleging that jurisdiction is proper because the events and decisions leading to her termination were made and executed in New York. However, each of these arguments were explicitly rejected by the Court in Hoffman. Moreover, plaintiff’s complaint does not allege that plaintiff was physically located in New York during the alleged discriminatory acts.

The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that the Hoffman case is no longer binding and that it did not apply here, citing its language that “the statutory scheme plainly has not extended such protections to nonresidents like Hoffman, who are unable to demonstrate that the impact of the discriminatory act was felt inside the state.”

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